Bad News For Hillary Clinton, Or Much Ado About Nothing In New Battleground Polls?

Polling in three battleground states shows Hillary Clinton slightly trailing three top Republicans, but it means far less than you might think.

Campaign 2016

A group of new polls from Quinnipiac shows Hillary Clinton trailing several top Republicans in states that are likely to be key battlegrounds in 2016, but it’s not at all clear that this actually means anything:

Hillary Clinton is in trouble in three key swing states, according to new Quinnipiac University polls released Wednesday.

In Colorado, Iowa and Virginia, the former secretary of state trails in hypothetical general-election matchups with three leading Republican candidates: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Clinton trails Rubio in Colorado, 38 percent to 46 percent; in Iowa, 36 percent to 44 percent; and in Virginia, 41 percent to 43 percent.

Matched up with Bush, Clinton trails 36 percent to 41 percent in Colorado; 36 percent to 42 percent in Iowa; and 39 percent to 42 percent in Virginia.

Clinton is also behind Walker in Colorado, 38 percent to 47 percent; in Iowa, 37 percent to 45 percent; and in Virginia, 40 percent to 43 percent.

The polls — which show Clinton trailing despite national surveys that give her an early lead over GOP hopefuls — found Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Vice President Joe Biden similarly behind the three Republican candidates in hypothetical matchups.

Voters in all three states gave Clinton low marks for honesty and trustworthiness, with 62 percent of Colorado voters saying she is not honest or trustworthy, compared to only 34 percent who think she is. In Iowa (59 percent to 33 percent) and Virginia (55 percent to 39 percent), Clinton earned similarly low numbers.

On some level, I suppose, these polls should be a message for Republicans as the battle for the GOP nomination continues. As we stand right now, the strongest candidates against Hillary Clinton are Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio. This has been true for awhile now, of course, but these numbers would seem to cement that fact. Given that, if Republicans actually want to win in November, then perhaps they ought to concentrate on these candidates rather than on the bloviating populism of Donald Trump or the ideological rigidity of Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum.

As for the match-ups with Hillary Clinton themselves, though, these polls tells far less than they appear to.

Since there hasn’t been any head-to-head polling in any of these states since April, it’s hard to tell if these numbers from Quinnipiac are an outlier or a reflection of an ongoing trend. In each case, the previous polling had shown Clinton with a lead over each of the named Republicans by roughly five percentage points or more, which is consistent with the leads that we’ve seen in head-t0-head polling in other likely battleground states such as Ohio, Nevada, and Florida. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Clinton continues to lead all of her Republican challengers on a national level, and has been recorded as leading most of them in state polls by other pollsters. It’s possible, then, that we’re looking at something of an outlier here influenced largely by the current news cycle and the fact that most Americans aren’t really paying attention to the Presidential race at this point.

When looking at these poll numbers, it’s worth paying attention to the calendar. We are, as of now, just about fifteen months and two weeks away from the General Election. At roughly this same time four years ago, several prospective Republican nominees were polling precariously close to President Obama, and of course he ended up beating Mitt Romney easily. In September 2011, a poll showed President Obama in trouble in Virginia, a state he ended up winning easily. An October 2011 poll found Obama losing to a “Generic Republican” and tied with candidates such as Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Even as a late as February 2012, the President’s job approval was negative in 40 out of the 50 states in the Union and he was behind every Republican except Newt Gingrich in Iowa. Going further back that 2012, we can find plenty of examples of early poll numbers that turned out to be entirely different from the ultimately result of the election:

  • In August 1999, Texas Gov. George W. Bush led Vice President Al Gore by 55% to 41% in a Gallup trial heat poll. That race ended up in a virtual dead heat, with Gore ultimately winning slightly more of the national popular vote than Bush.
  • In August 1995, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole was slightly ahead of President Bill Clinton in a Gallup poll, 48% to 46%. On Election Day 1996, Clinton beat Dole by eight points.
  • In August 1983, President Ronald Reagan was ahead of Democrat Walter Mondale by only one point, 44% to 43%. Reagan went on to beat Mondale in a 59% to 41% landslide in the November 1984 election.
  • In August 1979, incumbent President Jimmy Carter was tied with former California Gov. Reagan — each getting 45% of the vote. Reagan ultimately defeated Carter by 10 points.

These Quinnipiac polls could go down in history as being as inaccurate as those listed above, at the very least one can say that head-to-head polling this far away from a General Election is essentially useless and tells us very little about how the 2016 election will turn out. In some sense, I suppose, they suggest that the election will be a closely fought one whose outcome will be decided in roughly a half dozen or so battleground states. We already knew this, though, since this is essentially how every Presidential election since 2000 has gone, and it’s likely how they will continue to be decided absent some significant political realignment that results in a Reagan-style landslide for one party or another. As we sit here today, that doesn’t seem likely for either party

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Politicians, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Boyd says:

    Rather than predicting any outcome, I think the state-level polls, if accurate, reveal Clinton’s vulnerability, which for some is unexpected.

  2. DrDaveT says:

    Bad News For Hillary Clinton, Or Much Ado About Nothing?

    Um, that would be Number 2. As it were.

    I’m shocked — shocked! — to hear that people in the midst of a 16-ring circus with continuous news coverage are polling higher than the candidate in the race about which there is nothing much to say as yet. Or, to put it another way, I really will be shocked if these numbers survive even to the eve of the first Hillary-versus-Clown debate.

  3. Tyrell says:

    These sort of poll numbers are fairly meaningless, but they could give more encouragement to Sanders and the people who are wanting Warren to enter. O’ Malley is not going anywhere, and that is not surprising considering his disaster in Iowa over the weekend.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    There’s no way to spin this, it’s not great news for Hillary.

    But I’ll resist conclusions until I see more polling. Something has gone wrong with polling, lately. Look at the approval numbers for Obama since those are polled by multiple companies, and you see persistent gaps, differences between one polling outfit and the next that exceed the MOE, five and six point gaps. Something ain’t right in polling. My guess is they’ve lost so much contact with cell phones that they can no longer accurately compensate, but I imagine Nate Silver will have some more cogent explanation.

  5. Moosebreath says:

    I am hardly surprised. Given that the Republicans (especially but not limited to Trump) are sucking up all the media oxygen, so all the public is hearing is Republican critiques of Obama and Hillary, the Democratic message is not getting out.

    If the so-called liberal media spent one tenth the time on Hillary’s policy proposals as they do trying to convince everyone that she has something to hide….

  6. Tyrell says:

    @Moosebreath: The media seems to be concentrating on two people: Trump, of course, and Sander’s popularity. Hillary had some good points in her Iowa talk, but the media doesn’t want to spend time on economic talking points. Hillary still has experience, organization, and knowledge of how the Washington system works. She will not need any learning curve. Those are factors in her favor.

  7. humanoid.panda says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But I’ll resist conclusions until I see more polling. Something has gone wrong with polling, lately. Look at the approval numbers for Obama since those are polled by multiple companies, and you see persistent gaps, differences between one polling outfit and the next that exceed the MOE, five and six point gaps. Something ain’t right in polling. My guess is they’ve lost so much contact with cell phones that they can no longer accurately compensate, but I imagine Nate Silver will have some more cogent explanation.

    There might be some problems with polling, but five or six percent difference in Obama’s approval rating are absolutely not evidence of it. Even the best poll has a margin of error of +/-3 percent, meaning that we can expect two polls using exactly the same methodology taken on a given day vary by as much as six points. The problem, so far, is only about how polls are covered: the results of this poll vary sharply from every single other poll released this year, and instead of making it less newsworthy, as they should, they make it news.

  8. humanoid.panda says:

    Or, to put this simply: this poll, from ABC/Washington Post,

    putting Clinton 10 points ahead of Bush nationally, in line with the general polling average, came out monday, and was ignored. The Q-poll exists in a totally different universe from all the rest of the data, and notice how much attention it got.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    Clinton has a great idea for reform of capital gains taxation. It aims at long-term growth by taxing short-term investments at higher rates. Investments held for less than a year would be taxed at regular income tax rates as they are now…and lower rates given to investments held longer. The campaign has not said how much extra tax revenue it estimates the proposal would raise.
    In the meantime there is this:
    Of course that’s total nonsense…but Clinton and the Democrats are ill prepared to fight it…what with actual policy ideas, etc.
    The QU poll is probably right.

  10. al-Ameda says:


    I think the state-level polls, if accurate, reveal Clinton’s vulnerability, which for some is unexpected.

    I agree with you somewhat on this, however I see that she is behind in states where I expect her to be trailing. Also, I do not find her to be especially good or bad as a campaigner, so that plays in too.

    It is very early and if she is the nominee I expect the “1st woman president” factor to begin to make a difference – really strong turnout for Democrats is necessary and that might be enough.

    Perhaps voters are equally tired of the Clintons and the Bushes? Could be, but in the end both could be nominated, so there may not be an alternative. I could see Scott Walker on the ticket either way, as president or VP, I see Rubio as VP material, so far he’s unimpressive.

    Jeb and Hillary are both somewhat pedestrian on the trail, although Hillary projects a lot better than Jeb. Hillary is already a completely known political entity – no minds are changed. No Democrat will change to vote for any of the current GOP candidates, and no GOP voter will vote for Hillary over any of there choices. Turnout, new voters, that will be what decides this election.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    It’s not an MOE issue when Poll A has Obama one point underwater consistently, and Poll B has him with equal consistency 7 or 8 points underwater. If we were seeing a jumpy little graph, sure. But these are basically two flat lines consistently separated by more than MOE. They cannot both be right.

  12. Hal_10000 says:

    Any time up until about summer, polls reflect perception and name recognition. That’s why Trump is doing well. Clinton was doing well at first but she’s not as much of a novelty anymore. People won’t get serious about the election probably until the conventions.

    I return, once again to my mantra: Polls mean squat, polls taken 16 months before an election mean squat, have a beer and wait for the actual voting to start.

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